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Largest Science Teachers Organization Rejects Gore Video ... Why?

Posted: 2006-11-28

This is from t r u t h o u t, November 28, 2006


We need someone to expose the corporate connections of our other professional organizations. Then we'd begin to see why they don't make a full frontal assault on NCLB.

Would the world's largest science teacher's organization ignore climate change education? (Why did the NSTA say no to free "An Inconvenient Truth" DVDs?)

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has spurned 50,000 free DVDs of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and is squandering a golden opportunity to educate tens of millions of youth in the United States! Why? This 55,000-member organization of teachers and scientists could use Al Gore's film to orchestrate the single most influential educational goal in human history: the awareness and subsequent solving of climate change. There is no denying the escalating list of climate change evidence: from the potential extinction of polar bears and retreating glacial environments to the increase of global temperatures in unison with increased carbon dioxide levels.

Laurie David, a producer of the film "An Inconvenient Truth," helped to broker a "sweet deal" for the NSTA. Sitting in an LA warehouse are 50,000 free DVDs just waiting to be given out to every member of the NSTA. No strings, no catches, just a clear and simple agenda: provide teachers with a spectacular and scientifically acclaimed production to engage millions of students nationwide. And the NSTA says, "No?"

Is the NSTA placing economic expediency over "true science education"; does it fear the alienation of funders such as Exxon and the fossil powerhouse the American Petroleum Institute? Laurie David, who is also the founder of StopGlobalWarming.org, received an email refusal of the free teaching materials from the NSTA that is ominous and foreboding.

The NSTA wrote that acceptance of the DVDs would place an "unnecessary risk upon the (NSTA) capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters." Also in the email, NSTA claimed that it didn't want to offer "political" endorsement of the film and saw "little, if any benefit to NSTA or its members" in accepting the free DVDs. No benefit to teachers? Science teachers across the country are under-funded, overworked and often grab onto free lessons and materials as a matter of "educational survival 101." What I find despicable is that the NSTA is fully aware of that need and, sadly, often aids and abets the "fossil fuel cartels." The NSTA often denies or misleads on climate change and provides teachers with everything from "coal coloring books" to misleading videos such as "Fuel-less: You Can't Be Cool Without Fuel." Simply stated, the NSTA's refusal to distribute Al Gore's film is an unmitigated disaster that will tarnish its reputation as a "broker" of credible science materials, while squandering a prolific moment in educational history: the chance to allow students to become energy pioneers.

I wrote in http://www.Commondreams.org about this dilemma, and three special sentences come to mind from a July 7, 2005, piece in which I write an open letter to the NSTA executive director about the distribution of corporate-sponsored materials via the NSTA: In a recent NSTA annual report document, Exxon Mobil Foundation President Edward Ahnert explains its "partnership" with the NSTA clearly. "NSTA is such a natural partner for us. No other organization has the ability to reach thousands of teachers who share Exxon's commitment to improving science education." The question that begs to be answered, Mr. Wheeler, is this: can you trust Exxon?

Exxon recognizes the incredible power of distributing its materials to teachers. ExxonMobil makes no apologies for its anti-climate change stance; it funds "misinformation campaigns" like the American Petroleum Institute's (API) 1998 "Science Education Task Force" created to debunk climate change, and publishes ads in newspapers to cast doubt on climate change. And the NSTA has the brazen nerve to state that it expressed concern over taking Al Gore's movie because of "special interests?"

The NSTA's own admittance about refusing the Gore DVD because it would place "unnecessary risk" upon their own capital campaign speaks volumes about the mess we are in and must correct. Big oil and climate despoilers own the airways and advertising sections of magazines with their "half-truths" about climate and continued demand for using coal, oil and gas. Look at Scientific American's first four pages (December 2006). It shamelessly has a Chevron spread that pushes use of oil tar sands and states "Oil, natural gas and coal have been the energy workhorses for the last 100 years, and will continue to play a crucial role in the next 100 years." Or how about BalancedEnergy.org with teenage television actors urginging "Learn about coal!" Go to the site and see the preverbal cool teenager, holding a skateboard named Adam, stating that he is "pretty stoked" and that he "learned more about American coal" and, lastly, "thankfully, we can have it all" with coal!

Will 10,000-14,000 teachers return home with more oil and coal propaganda after attending the NSTA national conference March 29-April 1, 2007, in St. Louis? Know this: teachers go to these conferences for ideas and materials. The ongoing joke about attending a NSTA conference is this, "Bring two suitcases: one for your clothes and one for all the freebies!"

I am an environmental science teacher of 26 years and I have a steamer trunk of materials from NSTA's past conferences:

Project Learning Tree's Energy module, supported by API's Red Cavaney who wants ANWR opened, opposes the Kyoto Treaty, and wants more public land opened to energy exploration.

Lesson plans, coloring books, free coal samples from the American Coal Foundation - minus any substantive discussion, let alone mention of climate change.

Lessons and videos from a group that was called the "Greening Earth Society," funded by the Western Fuels Association. The message of the film was firm and academically clear: There is no human-induced climate change.

Our youngest teachers need help to plan and write lesson plans, to engage students in critical, scientific scenarios like climate change and to help those students face those challenges with facts in hand. The NSTA is the logical leader on this front with its prestige and deep pockets. Will the NSTA tacitly sit back and even conspire with the likes of ExxonMobil to fill this void? ExxonMobil and Monsanto and the American Petroleum Institute have little interest in providing science data: instead, they see flooding our schools with their "dubious science" as the last component of a major PR effort to continue profits and damn the consequences.

Climate change is an environmental challenge of epic proportions. Humans have never faced a dilemma that could so radically change the face of the planet: not just ecologically, but economically and culturally. Students, as our youngest citizens, have always been the targets of our civic-minded democracy that is fostered by our public education system in the United States. Our free public education system is bound by law and moral compass to provide students (via their teachers) with a world-class education that bestows the tools of critical thinking and access to factual data. The hope is that those tools grow our democracy and equip our children to be ecologically fluent as well as become civic-minded voters who can read, write and invest in our political system.

It is not too late for Gerald Wheeler and the NSTA to find the courage and educational moral high ground by accepting those 50,000 free DVDs sitting in an LA warehouse. If you are a teacher, student, parent or citizen: please email Gerald Wheeler at gwheeler@nsta.org and tell him that the special interest that would benefit from those DVDs would be our children! Ask the NSTA via Mr. Wheeler to reconsider their alliances with the American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil and Project Learning Tree. How can it be educationally sound to allow big industry at your conferences and receive your "education awards" but not to discuss climate change? Find the emails to your favorite "Big Green organization" (from the Sierra Club to Audubon to Defenders of Wildlife) and ask them: "Why aren't you in the schools giving out sound, ecological data and why aren't you at the NSTA conferences?"

People like Al Gore and Laurie David are providing an invaluable tool that could be used not just in science, but also in health, economics, history and English classes. Learning about the current state of the climate should be akin to learning the ABCs or basic math. "An Inconvenient Truth" has the hard data all American kids need to know and act on. Just as recycling became a national mindset through the lessons taught by teachers and brought home by children, climate change can be solved. Doesn't the world's largest science teachers organization owe this to our children?


John F. Borowski is a science teacher of 26 years; his pieces have appeared in the New York Times, UTNE Reader, Counterpunch, Commondreams and many other sites. He can be contacted at jenjill@peak.org and urges you to email Gerald Wheeler.

Science a la Joe Camel

By Laurie David

The Washington Post

Sunday 26 November 2006

At hundreds of screenings this year of "An Inconvenient Truth," the first thing many viewers said after the lights came up was that every student in every school in the United States needed to see this movie.

The producers of former vice president Al Gore's film about global warming, myself included, certainly agreed. So the company that made the documentary decided to offer 50,000 free DVDs to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) for educators to use in their classrooms. It seemed like a no-brainer.

The teachers had a different idea: Thanks but no thanks, they said.

In their e-mail rejection, they expressed concern that other "special interests" might ask to distribute materials, too; they said they didn't want to offer "political" endorsement of the film; and they saw "little, if any, benefit to NSTA or its members" in accepting the free DVDs.

Gore, however, is not running for office, and the film's theatrical run is long since over. As for classroom benefits, the movie has been enthusiastically endorsed by leading climate scientists worldwide, and is required viewing for all students in Norway and Sweden.

Still, maybe the NSTA just being extra cautious. But there was one more curious argument in the e-mail: Accepting the DVDs, they wrote, would place "unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters." One of those supporters, it turns out, is the Exxon Mobil Corp.

That's the same Exxon Mobil that for more than a decade has done everything possible to muddle public understanding of global warming and stifle any serious effort to solve it. It has run ads in leading newspapers (including this one) questioning the role of manmade emissions in global warming, and financed the work of a small band of scientific skeptics who have tried to challenge the consensus that heat-trapping pollution is drastically altering our atmosphere. The company spends millions to support groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute that aggressively pressure lawmakers to oppose emission limits.

It's bad enough when a company tries to sell junk science to a bunch of grown-ups. But, like a tobacco company using cartoons to peddle cigarettes, Exxon Mobil is going after our kids, too.

And it has been doing so for longer than you may think. NSTA says it has received $6 million from the company since 1996, mostly for the association's "Building a Presence for Science" program, an electronic networking initiative intended to "bring standards-based teaching and learning" into schools, according to the NSTA Web site. Exxon Mobil has a representative on the group's corporate advisory board. And in 2003, NSTA gave the company an award for its commitment to science education.

So much for special interests and implicit endorsements.

In the past year alone, according to its Web site, Exxon Mobil's foundation gave $42 million to key organizations that influence the way children learn about science, from kindergarten until they graduate from high school.

And Exxon Mobil isn't the only one getting in on the action. Through textbooks, classroom posters and teacher seminars, the oil industry, the coal industry and other corporate interests are exploiting shortfalls in education funding by using a small slice of their record profits to buy themselves a classroom soapbox.

NSTA's list of corporate donors also includes Shell Oil and the American Petroleum Institute (API), which funds NSTA's Web site on the science of energy. There, students can find a section called "Running on Oil" and read a page that touts the industry's environmental track record - citing improvements mostly attributable to laws that the companies fought tooth and nail, by the way - but makes only vague references to spills or pollution. NSTA has distributed a video produced by API called "You Can't Be Cool Without Fuel," a shameless pitch for oil dependence.

The education organization also hosts an annual convention - which is described on Exxon Mobil's Web site as featuring "more than 450 companies and organizations displaying the most current textbooks, lab equipment, computer hardware and software, and teaching enhancements." The company "regularly displays" its "many ... education materials" at the exhibition. John Borowski, a science teacher at North Salem High School in Salem, Ore., was dismayed by NSTA's partnerships with industrial polluters when he attended the association's annual convention this year and witnessed hundreds of teachers and school administrators walk away with armloads of free corporate lesson plans.

Along with propaganda challenging global warming from Exxon Mobil, the curricular offerings included lessons on forestry provided by Weyerhaeuser and International Paper, Borowski says, and the benefits of genetic engineering courtesy of biotech giant Monsanto.

"The materials from the American Petroleum Institute and the other corporate interests are the worst form of a lie: omission," Borowski says. "The oil and coal guys won't address global warming, and the timber industry papers over clear-cuts."

An API memo leaked to the media as long ago as 1998 succinctly explains why the association is angling to infiltrate the classroom: "Informing teachers/students about uncertainties in climate science will begin to erect barriers against further efforts to impose Kyoto-like measures in the future."

So, how is any of this different from showing Gore's movie in the classroom? The answer is that neither Gore nor Participant Productions, which made the movie, stands to profit a nickel from giving away DVDs, and we aren't facing millions of dollars in lost business from limits on global-warming pollution and a shift to cleaner, renewable energy.

It's hard to say whether NSTA is a bad guy here or just a sorry victim of tight education budgets. And we don't pretend that a two-hour movie is a substitute for a rigorous science curriculum. Students should expect, and parents should demand, that educators present an honest and unbiased look at the true state of knowledge about the challenges of the day.

As for Exxon Mobil - which just began a fuzzy advertising campaign that trumpets clean energy and low emissions - this story shows that slapping green stripes on a corporate tiger doesn't change the beast within. The company is still playing the same cynical game it has for years.

While NSTA and Exxon Mobil ponder the moral lesson they're teaching with all this, there are 50,000 DVDs sitting in a Los Angeles warehouse, waiting to be distributed. In the meantime, Mom and Dad may want to keep a sharp eye on their kids' science homework.


Laurie David, a producer of "An Inconvenient Truth," is a Natural Resources Defense Council trustee and founder of StopGlobalWarming.org.

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